Death Matters

One of the most confounding aspects of this pandemic and the political reaction to it (in terms of policy and public acceptance) is how little people know about the numbers.

I ask these questions to people in my circle and now to students: What is the average age of death in Massachusetts? What is the average age of Covid-related death in Massachusetts?

Even the public health majors in my class had absolutely no idea.

The difference is about a year and a half. Life expectancy in MA is 80.8. The average age of Covid-related death here is 82 (https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-dashboard-august-9-2020/download, (accessed 8/9/20).

screen shot of https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-dashboard-august-9-2020/download accessed 9/22/20

I included a screenshot of the dashboard from the August 9th report above because now, on 9/22/20, they’ve removed the vital statistic on age in covid-related deaths. Why did they stop displaying that crucial number?

Massachusetts State officials have just designated the city of Worcester “red” because we have a case-positivity rate of 8/100,000… We don’t know if those positive cases are people who are sick or a-symptomatic.

According to the CDC, the number of Covid-related deaths in the U.S. was 164,280 (as of 8/26/20, it’s higher now), That number is scary but when you look at it within a constellation of mortality and disease statistics, it seems low considering the measures we’ve taken to contain the disease. For example, consider that number with respect to the total number of deaths in the US every year: In 2017, 2,813,503 people died in the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm (accessed 8/9/20). This is one headline you do not see:

Nearly 3 Million People Die in the U.S. Every Year!

But only the Covid-related deaths matter. The Democratic National Convention in the US had much to say about “170,000” Covid-related deaths. They blamed Trump. –And that’s a common talking point. However, the media isn’t talking about the current Covid-related deaths; they are focused intently on the number of cases. –And there are a lot of cases, especially, in Republican-led States. These are the states that opened up too soon. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now reported on the surge of cases in those states, incidentally reminding us that they are the former confederate states.

In these states with surging numbers, the case mortality rate is plummeting. That story is not reported or investigated by the mainstream media with its pharma funding and focus on perpetuating fear.

In Massachusetts, where the case-positivity rate is currently less than 1%, the case-fatality rate is/was around 7.4%. In Texas, Florida and Georgia, together, the case-fatality rate appears around 2%.

The virus came to those states later and their shut-down was shorter. Those states came under sharp criticism from Democrats, Fouci and mainstream media. –But their strategy looks similar to Sweden’s (another sharply criticized strategy), which did not entirely shut down its economy.

The data in these states isn’t as well displayed as the data for Massachusetts (no plain layout or average age of death offered) but it looks like their long-term care facilities have been less hard hit than Northeastern US states including in NY and Massachusetts where over 66.6% of the Covid-related deaths were among residents of long-term care facilities.

In Texas with 663,246 cases and 13,660 Covid-related deaths, Florida with 644,000 and 11,810 Covid-related deaths, and Geogria with 265,00 and 5,842 Covid-related deaths (https://news.google.com/covid19/map accessed 9/6/20) the death rate appears around 2%, 1.8% in Florida. This is partly because younger, less sick (or asymptomatic) people are being tested en-mass but it doesn’t appear that the higher-risk populations are dying at as great a rate as they did in NY and MA.

There may be other explanations for decreased case-mortality rate (the most recent of which could be a high degree of false positive test results, as suggested by the NY Times may be the case in MA, NEV and NJ) and Bose Ravenel. The simplest, of course is that more tests = more cases but with the same number of deaths (people who aren’t sick get tested). Another could be that as the virus mutates, it weakens and kills fewer people; another explanation could be better preparation in medical facilities (more PPE etc) or even the unholy treatment (hydrochloriquin, azrithramaacin and zinc). Why isn’t the media asking these questions?

Let’s look at some more death and disease statistics.

Life expectancy nationwide is about 78.6 ( https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htmaccessed 9/6/20). Remember, the average age of Covid-related death in MA is 82. In 2018 over two million people died of the top 10 causes of death alone (about 2,094,893 if my math is right https://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_2018_1100w850h.jpg (accessed 8/9/20).

The top 10 causes of death are: 1) Heart Disease; 2) Cancer; 3) Unintentional Injuries; 4) Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease; 5) Stroke/Cerebrovascular Disease; 6) Alzheimer’s; 7) Diabetes; 8) Influenza & Pneumonia; 9) Nephritis (kidney disease); 10) Suicide.

With the (possible) exception of suicide, all of these top ten killers are co-morbidities of the novel coronavirus. The number of people who died of heart disease alone in 2018 was 655,381. That is about 54,615 deaths per month. –And from cancer? About 49,939.5 per month. Based on 2018 data, we can expect about 104 thousand people to die of those top two leading causes of death alone each month this year–over 500,000 since the economic lock-down began. That’s just the top two…

When I think about these numbers and look at the co-morbidities of Covid-related deaths, I feel like something is missing.

Let’s look more closely. “Intentional and unintentional injury, poisoning and other adverse events” (#3 of the top 10 killers) is a also a comorbidity of Covid-related deaths at least for 5,133 Covid-related deaths according to the CDC (accessed 8/29/20) . Of the 330 Covid-related deaths among 0-24 year-olds, 36, over 10 percent were at least partially due to intentional and unintentional injury, poisoning or other adverse event. Take a look at table 3 closely–if you don’t scroll to the right at the bottom of the page, you’ll miss the last age category–85+ accounting for 50,867 of the deaths (almost a third) to date (as of Aug 26).

When I bring up my confusion with my mother, a long-time ER nurse, a good friend who was an ICU nurse for 30 years, and several friends who have told me that I can’t deny the experiences of nurses on the ground, I agree. Indeed. I cannot.

The media often portrays the surge capacity of ICU (intensive care units) as critical. The Massachusetts dashboard includes charts of hospital ICU capacity. Midsummer, I asked my friend (retired ICU-nurse) what was going on in the ICU at her former hospital because she had told me they had asked her to come back. She said it was a war zone and they were at 150% capacity. When I asked how many beds they had, she said there were 13 in her unit (then designated for covid patients).

I’ve been thinking about this, remembering my mother’s Emergency Room (ER) stress and stories growing up and into my young adulthood until she moved out of the ER.

In non-Covid times, the state of affairs in emergency rooms (and maybe ICU’s as I understand them) is one of emergency.

They are perpetually under-funded, understaffed and under-supplied (as evidenced by many things including the lack of PPE at the beginning of this epidemic). It is a stressful job in any state. –But take those conditions and divide the resources in half (rooms, staff and equipment) because you cannot mix Covid patients with non-Covid patients, and add a case load of, say 5 to 10%. War zone indeed!

A friend of mine lost two grandparents from two different nursing homes in Central Massachusetts. They and their parents couldn’t be with their dying relatives and they couldn’t morn together after they had passed.

Like influenza, this virus clearly affects elderly and people with heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease more drastically than younger, healthy people. It is clearly a horrible disease. However, with our sole public health focus on covid, we should be seriously concerned with problems including PCR testing results, false positive notifications, the substantial sums awarded to hospitals per patient (up to $380,000 per case in some states, like Minnesota according to the “Becker Health Review). Something is off. From the corporate influence on the WHO, CDC and the NIH, to a news media that seems absolutely intent on inciting fear and censorship of social media posts that might lead us to question the dominant narrative, we’re looking at power and consolidation of capital that we have never seen before. Well, not quite. If we look at what happened in 2009-10, Swine Flu pandemic, we find the same actors with the same playbook. It just didn’t get to the point of lockdowns, mandatory masks and the kind of social shaming we see today.

One of the saddest parts of this whole experience for me is that when I question our approach to the pandemic, bring up these statistics, or my concern about the vaccine, censorship, pcr testing or the influence of Gates and pharmaceutical companies in media or government (getting there), my parents think I’m grossly misguided and unconcerned about their safety.

My old hippy parents who raised me to fight for justice, love and morality don’t have the hypertension, diabetes, kidney or chronic respiratory disease that would make anyone, especially people of their age most vulnerable. –But they are old and my mother reminds me of the ways in which she is vulnerable. I don’t take their health or my elderly or other vulnerable neighbors’ health for granted. However, I believe asking these questions is critical, especially when I think about the future of my son.

It’s crazy to me that my close circle immediately jumps to Trump whenever I try to talk about this. They bristle and begin to associate my questioning with that racist base. I am exasperated with my lefty friends but even more so with my academic colleagues who don’t seem to question any of this. Isn’t it your job to be skeptical!? I don’t have an academic job but I’m up tirelessly trying to figure out what is going on. Then I remember, I had input from the other side.

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