COVID, flu and politicians
Buckle up, buttercup, it’s manifesto time :)
[note: for those who don’t know me, and a reminder for those who do :), I think I’m normally a fairly reasonably person who doesn’t go around writing crazy manifestos...this was originally going to be a Facebook post in a discussion thread, but it got too long so I've moved it here]
One problem with the flu / COVID-19 comparison is that it’s not entirely apples to apples (apples to pears, *maybe*), as others have pointed out. For better or worse, we've decided as a society to live with influenza (although the more I read about this the more I question that "decision"). For the flu, we do have vaccines of limited effectiveness, likely some resistance built up in the population, and more treatment options. And still thousands die each year (in recent years estimated 20k - 60k).
So why should we go all out to stop COVID? We don't go all out for the flu or even car accidents. After all, if we eliminated cars there would BE no car accidents, right? Think of all the lives saved! But we can't/won’t do that, obviously. And disease is just part of life, right?
I mean I guess that's a stance one can take. I'm no ethicist. But the way I see it, we're at a crossroads. There's this NEW thing - COVID-19 - that can kill a bunch of people, and we can deal with it to varying degrees or ignore it to varying degrees. In the US, so far, we've taken a sort of middle road; there's been *some* restrictions in some areas, but not as many as the science suggests would really hammer the virus hard (I'm talking about masks and social distancing, really). And that's kinda the weird thing. Why not go that extra step? Seems pretty selfish not to. Masks, for example, have been shown to work. Social distancing has been shown to work. Regardless of what's been done or not with influenza in the past, this is something that we can do *now* in the present. Maybe it's even a wake-up call, I don't know? But I do know that the scientific community seems pretty united on this front. It’s tough, I know, and it’s an economic hardship for many. So how long should we have to distance and wear masks? How long will this have to go on? Again, I don't know; we'll have to figure that out as we go, and it won’t be easy, for sure. But I do know that we should be doing it right now when there is no vaccine and no miracle treatments on the table.
So I would think that the simple and effective interventions are something that we should promote, not undermine. The President, however, has not promoted them. Sure, he kinda halfheartedly does once in awhile, but we've all seen on video how he often doesn't really follow the guidelines himself, he doesn't seem to enforce them with other people when he's around and even creates situations where large groups of people ignore the guidelines together (rallies and whatnot). Not to mention he's been on record occasionally making fun of those who do follow medical advice on this issue. Now the president is lucky in that he basically has a mini-hospital in his house, teams of doctors, access to experimental medications that aren't available to the rest of us, and the Marines can airlift him to Walter Reed anytime things get dicey. Which is as it should be, actually, because he's the President. But what about the rest of us?
Not even getting into the entirety of the administration's response to the pandemic, what's been the consequences of the President's public behavior? Well we know that at least some people likely became sick from the SCOTUS announcement. And we know that lots of the President's supporters don't wear masks or distance at his rallies, and presumably many don't in other parts of their lives as well. We know that downplaying the pandemic has become part of his campaign. We have him on tape saying he knew the pandemic was serious back in February, at the same time he was publicly saying it wasn't (later saying he didn't want to create a panic, which sounds a little strange to anyone who is familiar with his Twitter account). We know that he's been going around lately saying there's a cure when there isn't. And so on, and so on. In sum, we know that he's been undermining the public health message about how to control the pandemic. And it’s a pattern, it’s his MO, it’s not just an occasional accidental slip up.
Undermining the public health message during a pandemic is reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous. If it resulted in less people taking precautions (and that seems really likely based solely on his rally crowds), then it resulted in more infections, which most certainly resulted in more deaths. How many? I don't know and we'll never really know for sure; this kind of thing is very difficult to estimate. But I'm sure you've seen some preliminary attempts at estimates of what might have happened had more been done sooner to fight the pandemic, and which suggested that tens of thousands could have been saved with earlier and "stricter" non-pharmaceutical measures in the United States (yes, these studies aren't all peer reviewed yet, some are, there may be problems with exact numbers, etc.).
The point is that everything that we know about public health and the virus makes it seem very likely that the number who have died because the President has downplayed the pandemic is a large one, indeed. And by large, it seems more likely that the number is in the thousands, or even tens of thousands, than the number is in the teens. He is, after all, driving much of the national conversation about the appropriate virus response. Can you imagine what might of happened if the President had worn a mask as soon as the CDC started recommending it, required masks and distancing at all White House events, publicly supported local politicians who promoted public health measures, stopped holding indoor rallies, held up public health leaders as heroes instead of deep-state enemies, and told his supporters that it’s patriotic to stand 6 feet apart while wearing their MAGA masks? We’ll obviously never know because that’s not what he did, but I’d put my money on it being a better outcome than what we have right now. Based on all we know about the virus and public health, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
To me, it's kinda like the President drives drunk all the time right down Main Street USA, gives speeches where he says that drinking and driving is a personal choice, questions the relationship between drinking, driving and auto fatalities, gives everyone at his rallies a shot & a beer before they drive home, pokes fun at his opponent during the debate for being a designated driver, but still occasionally says you shouldn't drink and drive, then brags he has the best program to combat auto fatalities. Were that the case, I'd be ok putting a bunch of the resulting drunk driving deaths on his doorstep. The pandemic is kinda like this, but it's worse, both in numbers who die and in the fact that we're trying to convince a population to come together to battle this thing.
And that’s just it - we need to *come together* to beat this; no one can beat a pandemic alone. Each one of our individual decisions effects other people. Sure, if you skip wearing a mask and hug your neighbor, odds are (with a little luck) nothing is going to happen to you that one time. Probably. But it might. And YOU might be healthy & lucky enough to make it through ok or be asymptotic, but I worry about those who aren’t. Those, for example, at Cancer Patients of Oklahoma where Laurie still gets her heceptin and perjeta treatment every 2 weeks (targeted therapy for her cancer that she’ll be on forever). Laurie’s supposedly not at increased risk according to her oncologists (thankfully) but everyone who’s on chemotherapy IS at risk because chemo suppresses the immune system. Like my old boss at OCU who started chemo *today* for breast cancer (and is incidentally a cop too; busy person). Some say that those at risk should just stay at home and be extra cautious while the rest of us live our lives, but that isn’t good enough, because the more the virus is in our society the more chance those at risk will get it no matter what they do. And right now with COVID-19 running rampant without a vaccine, it’s a bigger danger than the flu is any year. Being public health responsible is about protecting everyone, but especially those whose bodies can’t protect themselves as well as they should.
So in the end, it’s a numbers game. If we create more opportunities for the the virus to spread before we have a vaccine and reliable treatments, it will spread more than it otherwise would have. More people will get sick. And more people will die. As of today, we’ve had 214,929 deaths in the United States from the virus. If that could have been even 10% lower through more masking and distancing, think of the difference that would have made, not only to the now dead people directly, but to all of those people who were in their lives (children, parents, friends, coworkers, siblings, etc). So it’s not ok that we have politicians who - against all of the the evidence - appear to be undermining basic public health guidelines, as well as aiding and abetting the virus through their own reckless behavior. On this issue, it shouldn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent or whatever. It’s not about that.
It’s about an issue needs to bring us all together.
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