Update, May 9, 2020: Breaking the Mental Freeze Over COVID-19

May 9, 2020
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Editor’s note: Statistics for COVID-19 change daily. We will periodically update this article but please refer to the embedded links for the latest numbers. Latest update based on CDC and Johns Hopkins reports as of May 9, 2020.

OPINION

by Doris Booth

Editor-in-Chief, Authorlink

Some things could become even more dangerous for Americans than COVID-19. The other monster is blind fear.  Negative reports fanned by much of the news media, and rising public anxiety can cause mass hysteria that, in turn, can destroy us all.  In fact, a Wall Street Journal opinion column called the lockdown “Project Fear” (May 9, 2020).   No question, this bug is deadly serious, worse than anything we have faced; it is incurable and easily spread. Yes, we must do all we can to limit the devastation and death, lower hospitalizations and protect our heroic medical personnel.  But we must also find new ways to balance risk while reopening stalled economies.

 When we look behind the grim headlines and turn on a few lights, some nightmares loosen their grip. It is possible to see some encouraging signs. What we all now desperately need is rational thought, clear perspectives, and a boatload of solace.

So, how can we find the good news among negative banner headlines and bomb shelling newscasts? 

According to Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering as of May 9, 2020, the U.S. had 1,305, 199 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of these, 78,469  people have died. In other words, 6 percent of those sickened lost their lives, many with underlying pre-existing conditions. The other 94 percent who got ill are still alive. Assuredly, the number of deaths will rise as we reach the apex of the disease and conduct more testing this summer. But why not be encouraged that most of us will survive?

China, where the virus began, had 83, 096 confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins’s compilations (April 12, 2020) from across highly respected sources, 77,921 Chinese have recovered. That equals 93 percent. In China, 3,343 people died of the virus or 4 percent, slightly lower than our current U.S. death rate from the disease.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) posts the number of COVID-19 cases on its website. Through May 9, 2020 (reported on the CDC website), there were 1,274,036 recorded cases and 77,034 deaths (or a mortality rate of 6%), about the same as Johns Hopkins reported. The CDC had been breaking out the numbers “under investigation rather than confirmed. However, the organization has developed a deeper view of COVID-19 coupled with other influenza-type diseases. It appears the CDC’s new VIEW will try to further analyze trends by separating influenza-type illnesses specifically from COVID-19, and is also looking at pneumonia cases which may or may not be related to COVID-19. An enhanced report is now available on the CDC site.

We see from some states’ reports that numbers under investigation do not necessarily equal confirmed cases. As of April 14, 2020, the CDC case counts included both confirmed and probable cases in its statistical totals. A confirmed case or death is defined by confirmatory laboratory evidence for COVID-19. A probable case meets clinical criteria and epidemiologic evidence without confirmatory lab tests for the virus. So, it appears there is a certain amount of judgment involved in the statistics which states are reporting to national health organizations. 

Interestingly, from February 1 to May 2, 2020, provisional numbers from the CDC showed 47,128 presumed or confirmed deaths from COVID-19.  Deaths from Pneumonia alone, however, totaled 72,455–nearly 35 percent more  that from Coronavirus. Influenza deaths totaled 6,019.  But deaths from Pneumonia, Influenza or COVID-19 combined totaled 103,915. In other words, more than 50% of the deaths were not from Coronavirus alone, but from many other causes as well. The CDC does note that the data is incomplete because of lag time in reporting and because some deaths can have comorbid causes contributing to death. COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to influenza-like illness, thus deaths may be misclassified as influenza. 

Another interesting number reported by the CDC on is the number of “expected” deaths in the US from all causes (CDC Table 1, Provisional Death Counts for Coronovirus Disease, COVID-19) 

The percentage of deaths from all causes for the week ending May 2 is based on the average number across the same week in 2017-2019.  The May 2 report shows 787,181 people in the US were expected to die of some cause or the other as of the reported week. Based on the US population of 327,167,434 that means that 2.4 percent of Americans  were predicted to die as of the weekly report date anyway. 

It might be useful to include how many Americans could die of malnutrition or starvation or suicide if the numbers this year are applied to the mortality rate for next year, reflecting the despair caused by the nation’s lockdown.  Roughly 2.5 percent of the US population were undernourished in 2016, before the COVID-19 virus shut down businesses and caused an unprecedented jobless rate. According to Wikipedia, the country has one of the highest suicide rates among wealthy nations.[2] In 2018, there were 48,344 recorded suicides,[3] up from 42,773 in 2014, according to the CDC‘s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).[4][5][6] 

It seems to this writer that we need to get back to work. We cannot sacrifice the livelihood of millions of Americans. 

Johns Hopkins reported on April 17 that of the 592,088 active US cases, 57,123 have now recovered–nearly ten percent since the epidemic took hold here in early February.  Doubtlessly, many more will recover. 

As of April 12, Worldwide cases totaled 1,835,373 with 113,362 deaths (6.17 percent).  And nearly 94 percent were still alive in April. 

Certainly, we wish nobody would die from this disease or any other illness. But people do die. That is the nature of life.

According to The Center for Disease Control (CDC), flu season in the US, which runs from October through May, claims tens of thousands of lives every year. This season the CDC estimates that during the most recent flu season, from October 2019-May 2020, between 24,000 and 62,000 nationwide will have died due to influenza illnesses as of mid-March. Hospitalizations for flu range will have ranged between 400,000-730,000.  The CDC provides ranges because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S.

Taking the worst case, that means less than one percent (0.08 percent ) will die from the flu. This year’s flu season is shaping up to be possibly less severe than the 2017-2018 season when 61,000 deaths were linked to the well-known flu. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, American immunologist and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a March 11 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on coronavirus preparedness: “The seasonal flu that we deal with every year has a mortality of 0.1%,” he told the congressional panel, whereas coronavirus is “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” per STAT news. 

Given the statistics we already know, Faucci’s “10 times” prediction may not come true. But Congress was influenced by the testimony.

On Sunday, March 29, headlines screamed that Fauci said as many as 200,000 Americans might die from the new virus. This may have proved accurate had we not locked down.  But we are winning! This is what the news media should tell you, rather than stoking fear. 

Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah asked Fauci whether people who are infected with COVID-19 and recover from the disease are immune to reinfection in an interview Thursday March 26.

Fauci responded that, while experts can’t be 100% sure, he feels “really confident” that recovered coronavirus patients will have immunity. That’s good news.

As an exercise in perspective for us, The National Safety Council reported that in 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes and 4.4 million were seriously injured. A person is about a 50-50 chance of dying  in an auto accident as from the present levels of COVID-19.

Even in the darkest corners of New York City, there is hope. While about 20 percent of coronavirus cases have led to hospitalizations in the state, 80 percent have not.  Many have recovered now. Of the 223,699 cases across New York State, there have been 34,614 deaths or 1.54% as of April 17. More than 30 percent of the deaths occured in New York City (11,477). 

Encouraging news came April 15 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state recorded its first net decline in total hospitalizations, suggesting the coronavirus had hit an apex there.

Historically, America has seen worse devastation from disease, not only from the 1918 flu epidemic, but also from turberculosis in the 1940’s. Many people today do not remember the impact that tuberculosis had on America during and after the war. In 1943, 60,000 people died of tuberculosis in the United States. That statistic can be verified.

Turning away from raw numbers to individuals, one thing we all can do is to keep a positive attitude. 

Instead of regurgitating bad news, this is a time for creativity, imagination, humor, and kindness.

I suggest we take this time for deep personal reflection about our lives and the ways in which we humans are connected with each other throughout the world. We must show ourselves and each other new ways to manage our lives as we adhere to the restrictions our governments and medical experts have necessarily imposed. 

While the general media bring useful information, they often sell drama, fear, and exaggeration. No question that we have the most serious situation we have ever faced. But thoughtful actions rather than irrational ones will see us through the crisis. 

Three actions may help us from freezing up and drowning under icy fear.

  1. Find something useful and meaningful to do.
  2. Come up with a creative way to help your boss, teacher, friend, community lighten their personal crisis. It not only helps them, it helps your own frame of mind.
  3.  Take a step–just one–to break out of your own deep freeze of fear–then another step, and another. That step can be as simple as turning on your computer, or calling a friend, or talking the dog for a walk, or looking at funny animal pictures on Pinterest or Instagram. 

Thankfully, we live in digital times. Doctors have turned to telemedicine. Some testing labs now offer waiting in your car rather than a reception area until it is your turn for service. Restaurants are offering drive-through takeout. Churches and businesses are holding online services and meetings. We are resilient. We are inventive. We can come through this together. One of the most creative and inspiring things I have seen comes from A group of Nashville studio singers performing an epic cell phone choir. 

We need only to stop and think. What can we do to lighten someone else’s load? How can we navigate, negotiate and relate from six feet or miles apart? How do we find another job or a way to do business when we are ordered to close our doors? Where can we get food when we have little money? How do we study without books? How do we go to the doctor when doing so may put our lives at greater risk. The answers lie within us. We can do it!

 Here are a few examples to get you started. 

My local physical fitness studio owner, a sunny, positive person with a hearing-impaired son, had to shut down classes at her brand new studio, open less than three months. Instead, she set up online classes on a private Facebook group and scheduled virtual happy hours on Zoom.  Nearly as many people participated in online classes as come to normal classes! The exercise moves are exhilarating and our spirits are lifted, just to see all the familiar faces engaged. In this way, we are doing something positive for ourselves and staying connected, too.

My sister-in-law is an immune-compromised senior who desperately needs to work. She supports my brother who is in memory care with late-stage Alzheimers. This week, she was laid off from her job.

“What can you do to help your boss through HIS crisis? ” I asked. “Maybe even donate a few free hours to help call his customers.”

She brightened. It was possible for her to do something about her situation, however little. 

“I could be like a goodwill ambassador, calling customers on the company’s behalf,” she responded with excitement.  

“Exactly,” I said. “And you might be able to do this for other companies who could pay you for a few hours of customer calling.”

She called me thirty minutes later to tell me that she had proposed the idea to another former employer and they were thrilled with the idea. 

She was able to turn her desperate situation into an opportunity by thinking about what she could do for others. 

What are your positive, creative ideas for coping with COVID-19? We want to hear from you. Please leave your comments below. 

Let’s shine a light on the positive things that are happening.

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This post was written by Doris Booth

4 Comments

  • John Baker says:

    These are tense times. My industry is (as most are) experiencing massive layoffs to adjust to the economic realities facing us all. I’m a working senior in a high-risk health category that mandates a new and for me, uncharted path – working from home with limited resources for doing so. In a month’s time, I could easily be unemployed or dead. As a member of our much-maligned media, I feel my job in the new normal is to provide multiples – accurate and solid information, empathy for my radio listener’s various situations, encouragement for those that are facing dire circumstances, pleasant diversion through the music I play and many other little things to try and steer all of our lives into a more comfortable and secure place. I just wish I was in my studio so that I had access to phones…I’d love to give away rolls of toilet paper to the 10th caller.

    • admin says:

      John, my dear friend, please stay safe and don’t die. We all need your music and your incredible sense of empathy and humor Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. We all must look for the good in these strange times and be kind to one another.

  • Brigitte Brocato says:

    Thank you so much for your insight. This devastating virus is changing our lives as we knew before. Perhaps some good will come out of all of this. Spending more time looking inward, staying on touch with family and friends. Finding out that we can do with less, and just live each day, making the best of each day. This challenge if defining this horrible virus will make us all stronger, thanks to wonderful doctors and scientists who will find a vaccine to get rid of this monster virus. Stay well and hopefull.
    Brigitte Brocato

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